When saying “Grand Rapids Griffins” now all that comes to mind is the insanity that took place during last season’s Calder Cup Playoff series that saw various bizarre situations en route to a first round sweep to end the Milwaukee Admirals otherwise brilliant 2015-16 season.
There was a situation in which Corey Potter had his helmet ripped off during a Griffins forecheck yet was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct for playing without his helmet. There was the infamous “no goal” call in which a Potter shot was deflected off of Max Görtz and went in for a goal that would have made it a 2-1 game with a period left to play. It was waved off for goaltender interference despite the fact no one was remotely close to Griffins goaltender Tom McCollum. The Admirals would later score through Vladislav Kamenev but ultimately lose 2-1 with the deficit being the disallowed goal.
And then of course, it had to come to it, the madness that was Game 3 that saw not one but two pucks go flying clean through the net. Were they goals? Yes. Was the huge delay in determining what was happening all while leaving the exact same net in after the first goal took place a factor? Yes. It was the worst of the worst as far as AHL officiating ineptitude could possibly have and on display at a stage where it should never be an on-ice issue. It was. And it will sting for awhile.
Thankfully, there are plenty of the exact same bodies on both sides coming back from that series to take part in tonight’s first head-to-head meeting since that cruel playoff exit for the Admirals. Memories in the game of hockey are long. And the matter of “revenge” is a true storyline heading into tonight’s game. The great news is that the very first meeting of the season is at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena where the nets are in tip-top shape and it would take a Shea Weber-like effort to torch a puck through the net.
Another nice thing the Admirals will have going for them tonight is the fact that the Griffins played last night at home and shutout the Rockford IceHogs by a final score of 3-0. The Admirals have been stationary since playing Wednesday in the AM hour so the freshness factor should really be seen as tonight’s game progresses.
The Griffins enter tonight’s game with a record of 7-4-0-0 (14 points, 0.636 points percentage). They have won their last two games consecutively but have been sporadic having won half of their last six games. It’s either been good enough or just a touch off -but- they haven’t really played a poor game to date.
If anything their performance last night to finish off a four game homestand was one of their better efforts this season. Not only did they earn a shutout over the IceHogs but they uncorked 42 shots on goal including a massive third period finish that saw them outshoot the IceHogs 14-4 to cement the wire-to-wire win.
Jared Coreau was the man in net for the shutout last night and he stopped all 30 shots the IceHogs threw at him. It was his first shutout of the season and it came in his tenth start of the season. Coreau has started as many game in net as the Admirals have played as a team this season while utilizing four different goaltenders. It’s pretty crazy. That said, he has met the massive work load with quality results: 7-3-0-0 record, 2.10 goals against average, and a 0.934 save percentage. The other man to start for the Griffins in Coreau’s lone rest day to date was Eddie Pasquale who suffered a loss while the Griffins offense was blanked on the road against the Charlotte Checkers.
There are currently two players out of the Griffins lineup on recall to the Detroit Red Wings who you’d hope don’t magically arrive in time for tonight’s game given the damage they’re capable of offensively. Anthony Mantha started the season in the AHL on fire by scoring 10 points (8 goals, 2 assists) in 10 games before an injury to Andreas Athanasiou saw him recalled yesterday. In Mantha’s career against the Admirals he has scored 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists) in 17 games including last year’s playoff match-up. The other notable man absent from the Griffins lineup is Tyler Bertuzzi who scored 3 goals in 3 games during the Griffins sweep of the Admirals in the playoffs. This season he had 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in 9 games prior to being recalled while Thomas Vanek was placed on injured reserve.
When scanning the rest of the Griffins roster you see plenty of familiar names returning from last year’s group. Players to keep an eye on tonight I feel will be: Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Martin Frk, Tomas Nosek, Eric Tangradi, and Robbie Russo. Elsewhere the Griffins have added good veteran depth with one of those being an Admiral from a season ago by the name of Conor Allen who I suspect signed with the hopes of not playing for three different AHL teams this season.
All those names and I could rattle off even more solid veteran minded players: Brian Lashoff, Nathan Paetsch, Daniel Cleary, Matthew Ford, and Ben Street. That gets paired with some prospects that the likes of Vladislav Kamenev and Jack Dougherty should be familiar with in Yevgeni Svechnikov and Dominic Turgeon. Svechnikov was drafted by the Red Wings in the 1st Round (19th Overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft and played with Kamenev at the national team level at World Juniors. Turgeon was team captain of the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) last season where Dougherty was an alternate captain alongside him.
So, the Griffins have yet another very stacked, deeply talented, and diversely structured team once again. Go figure, right? I feel as if two of the best teams right now in the NHL when it comes to scouting and the developmental process through the AHL are the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators. No wonder these two sides lock horns so well.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Will the Milwaukee Admirals winning streak continue? Do you still cringe when thinking about last year’s playoff games against the Grand Rapids Griffins?
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